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November 22, 2013

‘Pops, Patriots and Fireworks’

Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

  1. Scotts Corner Market – Trinity Corners Shopping Center;  55 Westchester Avenue

  2. Pound Ridge Sunoco — 66 Westchester Avenue    

  3. Sam Parker Country Market — 257 Westchester Avenue    


Bedford Village

  1. Bedford Rexall Pharmacy — Hunting Ridge Mall; 424 Old Post Road  

  2. Village Green Deli — Village Green; Routes 22 and 172    

  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

  4. Village Service Center —193 Pound Ridge Road (at Long Ridge Road intersection)    


Bedford Hills

  1. Bedford Hills Deli – 7 Babbitt Road    

  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


Katonah

  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road


Mount Kisco

  1. Teamo/Mt. Kisco News – 239 Main Street    


Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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Special ed teacher fined for ‘unprofessional’ conduct


By R.J. MARX

New York State Education Department hearing officer Lisa Brogan awarded the Katonah-Lewisboro School District $3,000 from special education teacher Kristin Peterson in a decision announced by the department at the start of the school year. The fine, to be taken out of her salary, was levied for Ms. Peterson’s “unprofessional, insubordinate and inappropriate conduct” in disparaging her supervisor, the superintendent and other district employees.

The Aug. 2 opinion drew an immediate legal response from Ms. Peterson and her attorney, Peter Hoffman, who filed papers in New York State Supreme Court to vacate the hearing officer’s findings. In the months since, both the district and Ms. Peterson have exchanged legal documents and exhibits.

An ongoing civil case in federal court also remains open in which Ms. Peterson charges the intentional infliction by the district of emotional distress, defamation, negligent supervision, negligent hiring, retaliation, a hostile work environment, discrimination based on disability, discrimination based on gender and violations of civil rights under New York State Law.

In the education department’s opinion, Ms. Peterson was not held culpable for alleged misconduct toward a special education student at Meadow Pond Elementary School in an incident in which district officials said she behaved improperly. In addition, Ms. Peterson will keep her job with the district.

The hearing stemmed from charges by Ms. Peterson that the district had engaged in “unlawful discrimination” after trying to remove her from the district, based on her age and gender, in retaliation for Ms. Peterson’s advocacy on behalf of a special needs student in her charge.

Ms. Peterson, of North White Plains, was hired by the Katonah-Lewisboro School district in 1997. In 1998, Ms. Peterson was diagnosed with an advanced brain tumor. She received treatment at Sloan Kettering, where she was given little chance of survival. She subsequently developed Hodgkin’s disease. Ms. Peterson was left with several disabilities from the illnesses and treatment, which the district allegedly failed to accommodate.

She worked in the district as an elementary and middle school social worker. In September 2011, the district had a dispute with Ms. Peterson over her handling of a special needs student. They said that she behaved improperly by “physically pulling” the disabled student by the arms, dragging him and using inappropriate force.

Following the incident, Ms. Peterson had numerous run-ins and disagreements with the district’s director of special education Connie Hayes and Katonah Elementary School principal Jessica Godin.

On June 21, 2012, Ms. Peterson was re-assigned to a districtwide social worker position, a role that she perceived as a punishment for her alleged misconduct.

Accompanied by teachers union representative Sandra Grebinar, Ms. Peterson attempted to “steer the conversation back to the reasons for the transfer.” Ultimately, Ms. Peterson and district superintendent Dr. Paul Kreutzer had a “heated exchange,” which ended up with Ms. Peterson storming out of the superintendent’s office.

Matters came to a head on Nov. 14, 2012, after a series of interactions with principal Jessica Godin at Katonah Elementary School. Although “the facts of which are hotly disputed,” according to Ms. Brogan, Ms. Godin said she felt “concerned for her safety.”

“This was someone who should not work with 5-year-olds,” Ms. Godin said in testimony, referring to Ms. Peterson.

On Nov. 29, Ms. Peterson filed court papers against the Katonah-Lewisboro School District, charging Dr. Kreutzer, Ms. Hayes and Ms. Godin with discrimination.

Ms. Peterson charged that the district intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her, defamed her and was negligent in her supervision and hiring. The papers stated that the district created a hostile work environment as a result of her disability and gender.

Two weeks later, the Katonah-Lewisboro school board asked for Ms. Peterson’s dismissal. The district argued that Ms. Peterson “has shown a level of contempt for her supervisors and colleagues which cannot continue. Her aggressive and confrontational behavior, both in person and in letter-writing campaigns, has alarmed staff and supervisors.”

Her conduct, the district stated, “has been insubordinate and unprofessional, lacking even a minimal level of courtesy, interfering with the effective operation of the district and its business.”

In her decision, issued on Aug. 2, Ms. Brogan described Ms. Peterson as a woman “who loves her work and cares for her students as if they were her own children. She has a gift for dealing with challenged, special needs students, and the district and its families have been lucky to have her in their service.”

While chiding Ms. Peterson for her approach to remedying her various grievances, Ms. Brogan said that Ms. Peterson did not “physically pull” a disabled student by the arms over his objection. “Nor do I find she did anything even remotely inappropriate in her interaction on that day. Moreover, I find the administration failed in its responsibilities to Ms. Peterson in the aftermath of the event, not having conducted a thorough or fair investigation, and subjecting her to consequences in the absence of credible evidence regarding what had, in fact, occurred.”

Ms. Brogan added that “there is absolutely nothing in this record that comes close to suggesting that Ms. Peterson was ever a threat to the students she served. She had sharp disagreements with her supervisors over many issues, but I am firmly convinced that she always had the best interests of her students at heart, and there is no indication that her dispute with her supervisors ever spilled over in any way to the services she provided as a social worker.”

However, Ms. Brogan wrote that Ms. Peterson “repeatedly chose harsh language, was quick to accuse, sometimes prior to investigation, and exhibited a clear disdain for the people with authority over her. She could have made the same points in a far more polite and diplomatic way. She could have questioned without being overtly critical. While I am sympathetic to the frustration she was experiencing, she nonetheless could have softened her accusations with qualifications of subjectivity and perspective … she should be keenly aware, and consider herself fully on notice at this juncture, that the type of language used and approach taken in these letters is not generally acceptable and, if repeated, could subject her to discipline in the future.”

Ms. Peterson has been found culpable of engaging in inappropriate, unprofessional and insubordinate conduct. “While insubordination is a serious matter, this is the first time that Ms. Peterson has ever been subjected to disciplinary charges, and termination is far too serious a consequence for a first offense, especially considering Ms. Peterson's long and admirable record of service in the district,” wrote Ms. Brogan. “Indeed, the entire atmosphere in which this conduct occurred, instigated by a false accusation and fed by an ongoing failure of communication between and among the parties, is a mitigating factor on penalty.”

In considering Ms. Peterson’s return to the district, Ms. Brogan acknowledged, “It is difficult to envision how all the players in this unfortunate tableau move past what has occurred, and even my findings herein, to work together side by side in a constructive, collegial and respectful fashion. It is beyond my purview to dictate to anyone how they should behave going forward, but it is within my charge to issue a stem warning to this Respondent, that now that she has had her chance to say all that she needed to say, it is time to move on, mend fences, and get back to the work that she excels at and loves so dearly.”

Ms. Brogan warned that “If she is unable to do so she will most certainly risk a return engagement at 3020a [disciplinary charges], and the results will undoubtedly be much harsher than those which I now issue.”

At the state education hearing, Ms. Peterson was represented by counsel provided by the New York State United Teachers. District counsel was led by Michael McAlvin and Cheryl Sarles of the law firm Ingerman Smith.

In the court documents, Ms. Peterson seeks to vacate the State Education Department order while the district asks the court to confirm most aspects of the opinion. The district asks the court to vacate a portion of the penalty against Ms. Peterson in order to “impose a more severe penalty” on certain charges.


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